When, at the end of June last year, the Chair of our Council – Sir George Cox – telephoned to offer me the job of Vice-Chancellor (he did pause…it did feel a bit like the results moment at the end of Strictly…) the start date of 1 February seemed a long way away. Well, after a lot of preparation, it’s arrived; my first day in the new job. And even though I have worked at Warwick for nine years, today does feel a bit like my first day at school…
It is an interesting time to be taking over as Vice-Chancellor. On the one hand, Warwick is riding higher than at any time in its history, according to every league table at which you might look. The past few years have been marked by a whole series of achievements in teaching, research, in our organisational efficiency, as well as in our ability to raise the funds that we need to invest in our future. We have great students and wonderful staff; which we are adding to through top quality recruitment. On the other hand, not all of that success has been easy, and there have been a number of difficult moments for us all. The success of the university has depended on the hard work of so many, and I do not underestimate the effort and personal cost that this has entailed. Let me start as I mean to go on – by thanking you for that effort, energy and commitment.
Currently the Government is consulting on proposals that amount to nothing less than the most momentous changes in higher education that England has ever seen. Out of these, we are very likely to get a Teaching Excellence Framework based on metrics, an opening of the sector to alternative providers (some of whom will clearly be for profit), and a final move to a position in which students are all seen primarily to be ‘consumers’, rather than people striving to advance their knowledge and skills. The move from education as transformation to education as transactional is potentially the most profound.
In facing these challenges, we all have a lot to do; I know that I do. Education is going to be transformed further over the next few years, and we need to be clear, as a community, what we will want to do in that context. It is good that we can do that as a whole university community, drawing on the support of our friends in the city of Coventry and the county of Warwickshire; on our alumni and donors locally, nationally and internationally; and on an ethos of what this university is and should be, a concept which has stood the test of time at Warwick and will continue to do so.
That ethos is important. A university is about extending the boundaries of knowledge in teaching and research. Our community – students and staff, colleagues from all parts of the university – are all committed to those ends. We may disagree over the route, but not over that destination. But in addition, the Warwick ethos is about striving for excellence in all that we do; in being brave in taking positive risks; in engaging fully with the academic world regionally, nationally and globally; and in engaging with the commercial, public sector and third sector worlds with equal energy and intensity. As we move out of the 50th anniversary year, I think it became clear to many of us renewing the ethos of the university should be one of the tasks for our future, to recommit to the principles that have taken the university so far so quickly.
In these endeavours, I am lucky to be able to work with wonderful colleagues. I am grateful to Tim Jones, who today also starts a new job, that of Interim Provost. We are all sad that Ken Sloan, our transformational Registrar, will be leaving us at the end of July; but we will advertise this month for a successor. As many people know, Ken is a Warwick Alumnus and has agreed to support us on some discrete projects after he steps down.
Today I am pleased to announce two other ‘first days’. Pam Thomas has agreed to serve as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, and Simon Swain as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Affairs. Pam’s role is a pan-institutional one, and Simon has the task of developing our extensive relations internationally, nationally and in our region. In all this, education is at the very core; you cannot be an excellent university without excellent learning experiences.
Many of you will know of the outstanding work that Christina Hughes has done as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning over the past few years. I see as one of the core elements of my job to be working with Christina on developing our educational offerings over the next few years. Other colleagues in the senior management team will continue in their roles as currently set out. Collectively, we look forward to working still more closely with all in the academic and administrative and commercial parts of the institution, as well as of course with the student body and the Students’ Union.
Just as you can’t be an excellent university without excellent learning, you can’t be a research-intensive university without outstanding research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, our results were incredibly good. But there is still, as always, more to do, in maintaining the quality of our publications, securing still more funding for our research, and in developing the social and economic impact of our work. We have a strong base for all of this – just look at the amazing WMG National Automotive Innovation Centre going up day-by-day as an example of all of this. It is a development, a building, a partnership of which the whole university can and should be proud of.
Many will know of our base in London in The Shard for the Warwick Business School. We have a number of other London activities as well of course, not least involvement in the Alan Turing Institute, and a number of us have ambitions to develop still more such links for activities in the capital. That is, more teaching (summer/winter schools and, over time, perhaps foundation programmes); more research impact; more engagement in policy debates; more partnering with other like-minded institutions from the capital city, such as the London Film School and a London Centre for Urban Science and Progress in partnership with Kings College London. I am pleased to announce today the development of a Warwick In London activity, to be headed as its first Dean by Abhinay Muthoo. As Abhinay will be spending a good deal of time developing this, he will stand down as Head of Economics once we have appointed his successor. Siobhan Benita will also move to the London project, as Chief Strategy Officer.
Working more fully in London is part of a strategy for this university to be even more fully engaged in the academic hotspots of the world. We are proud of our roots and our Midlands relationships. Where many of the best universities congregate, there is space for Warwick too. Developing our London presence as well as our Californian campus; and our alliance with Monash still further, we should look to work closely with places where our relationships are strong. None of this is to downplay our relations in our region. I am a Midlander – I was born in Leicester, and have lived in many different parts of the region – and am very committed to support our friends in Coventry and Warwickshire, and to look to work still more closely with partners such as Coventry University in vitally important projects, such as the bid to be UK City of Culture.
New buildings are and will continue to be a part of our everyday existence. We need to open one new academic building a year from now until at least 2023. We need new student accommodation; a new sports centre; a redeveloped Arts Centre. None of this will be easy; there is very little public money available for such projects any more. That means, to continue to be an excellent institution and build on our achievements over the past 50 years, we need to fund may of these developments ourselves. This means running carefully planned surpluses, and it means ploughing those surpluses back into the estate as well as into jobs and into scholarships. In order to do this and to keep Warwick as one of the world’s leading universities, we need to do this together, involving the whole community.
As I get to the end of this, I have a strong sense that there is a lot to do! But this is tempered by what I know of the University of Warwick. We can achieve a huge amount, because of the incredibly high quality of staff and students that we have, because we pull together when we need to, because we have wonderful friends amongst the alumni base and beyond both locally and around the world. The future will be challenging, there is no doubt about that. But there are real opportunities for us to make Warwick a still better university. And we must work together to take those opportunities to promote our distinctive ethos for being different, for boldness, and for leading regionally, nationally and internationally.
I hope this is a useful way of beginning a conversation. I plan to write more for our blog, and my colleagues will do so too. I also plan to get around the university as much as I can, starting this week, and look forward to a very large number of conversations around all these issues – and more!